Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Secular Christian?

Secular Jew is an accepted description of a person who identifies as being Jewish but is Jewish in a cultural, nonreligious way.  OK, I do understand that being Jewish is different than being "Christian", since there's a whole tribal identification and--like being mixed race--in a sense you are what the world will name you.

Christians aren't quite the same, though shared experience can create a tribal feeling for sure:  church suppers (just listen to Garrison Keillor), nuns with rulers, bathrobe Christmas pageants, Midnight Mass--. And, since many of the US's immigrants are traditionally Christian, you have the whole food and whatever connected to the holidays. Tamales, stollen, a German pickle, clam chowder, or Taco Bell so mom doesn't have to cook, whatever it is, it is, and hallelujah.

My parents were both from the South though my dad was very evasive about what he actually believed and we weren't constant church goers, I was raised a Protestant Christian.  Jesus watched every minute of my day and was very sad when I did anything wrong.  My mother read a chapter of the Bible to me every night; I said the Lord's Prayer and long list of God blesses kneeling by bed, hands porperly folded, before I went to sleep.

Christmas was magic.  Mary and Joseph, shepherds, Wisemen, and all the friendly beasts clustered around a baby while the angels sang. Every Christmas Eve I searched for the Star as I also watched for Santa and listened for the reindeers' jingling bells.

Peace on Earth and a Charlie Brown Christmas tree.  I won't give up my claim on them.

That I don't believe in Christian tenets anymore in any orthodox or even unorthodox way, I believe deosn't matter--I cling to my right to my heritage.  I collect nativity sets, sing Christmas carols when no one can hear (do unto others), remind myself that each person carries a spark of the divine and when I feed the hungry, clothe those without clothes, I serve whatever is holy in all of us. I should judge not and should remember that if I have two coats I ought to give one away.

For those who believe I still say I will pray for you.  "To whatever is at the heart of all this and cares" may not be much of an address but I don't think it's the dead letter office and prayer is as good a name as any.

Tradition is good, love is even better, and stories that encourage children to believe that hope shows up in surprising ways, the angels sing of peace, and the scraggliest Christmas tree can shine like a star are, I believe, mine to claim.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Reading Confucius

OK, there's no question that the email surprised me.  Actually I assumed that the writer had somehow gotten the wrong address because a) she wanted to send me a review copy of a book and b) she was doing so because she liked my website. I did my best mental Scooby Doo huh? and promptly emailed back that while I never objected to getting a free book she obviously had the wrong person.
But then she used the secret words: Barefoot on the Ground.
And that's how I got to read Confucius from the Heart by Professor Yu Dan, translated by Esther Tyldesley.  (Translators should be recognized and applauded.) Published by Atria in October, 2009.
I'm very glad I did. And not just because of a certain implicit flattery in the whole exchange.  (Just the thought that somebody else might be reading this besides those of you who love me and maybe do pity
The back story on Confucius from the Heart is fascinating in itself--I had thought Confucianism in China had been pretty thoroughly relegated to the past and the bad old days before the Revolution.  However, the Analects were/are still being studied in the universities, at least as literature and history, and in 2006 Professor Yu Dan of Beijing Normal University gave a week long series of televised lectures on Confucius for the modern world.
To nearly everyone's surprise, apparently including Professor Yu Dan's, it was a hit.  (I'm not sure what would be comparable here--Socrates as an Oprah's Book Club selection?) Over ten million copies were sold in a short time.
Now it's been translated and brought to the English speaking/reading world.

I described to someone as the kind of book you keep reading long after youve closed the covers.  And it is.

At first it seems not so much simple as it does simplistic. Follow your internal moral compass.  Choose your friends wisely.  Govern yourself before governimg others.  Show respect to all.  Don't compromise your principles for public honors and material rewards. Nothing new.

However, as you continue to read, the point of the simplicity becomes clear: becoming  a junzi, the person who has found balance, equanamity, right thinking, and right action,  should be attainable by all.  The translator chose to use the Chinese word "junzi" throughout because, she writes, the concept has no satisfactory English equivalent. The simplicity of the writing does not suggest that becoming a junzi is easy, something that can be put on a poster and then absorbed.  Rather it is that becoming a junzi is a process that does not require an advanced degree or esoteric learning.

But that isn't what I mean by continuing to read the book long after it's been read.  When I started this review/essay I was sure I would be done over the weekend.  which was two weekends ago.  Looking back I should have listened to Confucius's statement that it is best to talk about one's achievements after they have been achieved.

Um, yes.

Recetntly I had the bad experience of finding out that someone I had referred a friend to, a person I thought was honorable, to be trusted, turned out to be not honorable, not trustworthy--in fact someone who tried to take advantage of my friend.

I woke in the night reading the lines that warn against those who are charming and say what you like to hear.  Choose a friend who tells you the truth, Confucius says. And you can tell this person because the words won't drip with honey and will not always be exactly what you want to hear.

May not make a funny fortune cookie, but I wish I'd listened sooner.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Riding the Invisible Dragon

Once upon a time there was a princess who set at her desk most of the day and wept.  She tried to hide her face from others because weeping at her desk was not in her job description. There were times she wept because something sad had happened, but sometimes she wept because the dragon she was riding dove for the ground.

Some days, some nights this fiercely beautiful, wildly untamable creature arches her neck, spreads her shimmering wings , as they soar to the high upper reaches where the stars are always bright and the moon always full.  The dragon's flames light up the sky, the princess shrieks her joy.  Poised precariously on her dragon's back, she dances until she falls, still laughing as the moon and stars spin past her.

Sometimes the dragon catches her.

Sometimes she keeps falling.

And sometimes they soar too high and the dragon twists, plunging down into deep water, into caverns where there is no light, until the princess begins to believe that light is an illusion and all there is, all there ever will be is darkness.

The princess, though, is the only one who can see the dragon.  To everyone else she is gyrating frantically through the skies, shooting up, diving for the ground, and all of her own volition.

This is, of course, metaphor and an oddly mixed one at that, unless the princess's office is somewhere between Middle Earth and Hogwarts.  Obviously, too, (or at least I think it is) the princess is me.

I'm bipolar.

When I was crying at work--I cry, only princesses get to weep--I was in the midst of the break that finally sent me to the psychiatrist who named the dragon. I had been treated for depression for years because who sees the therapist when you're flying high in a mania? However, this final break was triggered by a medication that works great on depression--not so much on bipolarity.

Crying at work.  Certain that not only did no one like me, but sure that they were talking behind my back and telling everyone how damned incompetent I was.  (They probably were but I wasn't being singled out--it was just the way things are sometimes.)

The 3:00 AM awakenings were especially fun. I would wake up crying. The dogs that slept with me would looked baffled and one even--how maudlin--would actually try to lick away my tears.  (Shit--he probably just needed more salt in his diet.)  All my sins and failures, especially as a mother, would come and sit on my chest, going over a detailed laundry list of my crimes against everyone. There was no washing away these sins, either.  I knew I was unlovable and that the people who said, who thought, they loved me were either deluded or loved me out of pity.

Did I always cry?  No.  Anger and hysterical rage are also a part of mania. I could go from trembling lips and barely held back tears after being told I'd misspelled a word, to shaking anger and ice dagger words.

I had a sticky note on my computer with a list:. d. t., d. t.. d. e., l. p.--which stood for don't talk, don't think, don't eat, look pleasant. 

Being carried by the dragon was no joy ride for me, but being anywhere near me was certainly no pleasure either. I wasn't always angry, I wasn't always tearful.  I could still laugh--my family tends to have a pretty dark sense of humor--but I wasn't just fragile, I was brittle and ready to shatter at the slightest touch.

People (wisely) avoid being around you if they can and when they are--they tiptoe.

Or they try to help you.  Usually they're rational and reassuring.  People don't really hate you.  Your kids--or "we" when it was one of the kids talking--have turned out fine, so you didn't ruin them.

Cheer up.  Snap out of it.  Let's go do something fun.

I tried my own drugs of choice: buying stuff and things for other people, trying to help my friends and family with their lives (I think it's actually called interfering), refusing to open any mail that looked remotely like a bill--because if you don't open them you don't have to pay them--spending the time I wasn't working curled in my recliner with a book and the computer on my lap and the TV on.  Nothing could hold my attention for very long.  Oh, and by the way, if you're ever shopping in this aisle, the, uh, "admiration" of men can be quite an excellent drug too.  And you might be surprised at what can seem like a good idea at the time.

Humans tell stories and want to frame life and make order, or at least some kind of sense out of the chaos.  When the dragon is taking you for a ride, you sometimes try to figure out why.  Because there has to be a why, doesn't there? My ex-husband caught of lot flack on this one--blame for how I was feeling, blame for leaving me, blame for not understanding now, for being mean to me.  Now we aren't divorced for nothing and there are people, including our own children, who are amazed the marriage lasted so long. We're both battered and scared, but the dragon didn't walk in the door he opened to walk out. I brought her with me and I got full custody.

There is also the explanation of simply being unlovable, unworthy, and a burden to everybody whose orbit touches yours. That's when people start watching you closely and don't like to leave you alone.

Most of the time though you're just too busy trying to hang on, flailing around for something to grab hold of. What's hard to explain--to others and even to yourself--is that you didn't choose to get on the dragon and you didn't choose this emotional crack the whip. To other people, the people around you, you're doing the crazy dance, but the assumption is that at some level you WANT to dance and you'd get off  the dance floor if you really wanted to. (Do I have to remind you that the dragon is invisible to everyone else?  It's the best I can do metaphorically, so please keep it in mind.)

But the hard thing for you, the rider--meaning of course me--is to admit that while you didn't choose to get on this dragon, there's really no one to blame for the wild ride, not circumstances, not other people, and not even your own unlovable and horrible self.

It's an illness. A mental illness.

Frankly I hated the term.  When the psychiatrist first suggested it (her statement was, "I will not give you a diagnosis this quickly but if I were teaching a class to med students on bipolar--you would be a classic example to take to the class."),  I went into a kind of disassociated mental fugue.  Depressed was depressed but bipolar was really mentally ill. Mentally ill.  Which really means crazy. It takes awhile to wrap your crazy head around that, and a little longer to tell people what your doctor said. You walk the road to acceptance in fits and starts and the dragon doesn't stop the ride any time soon.

 The meds help amazingly.  The clinical sounding words "mood stabilizer" don't convey the tremendous, rainbow-hued relief they can be.  The clouds begin to lift and the reign of tears begins to end.

You learn that you can't cure this yet, but you can  manage it.  You can feed the dragon or learn to keep her in her stall. Take your meds.  Keep a routine, which is hard when chaos has been the only life you've known. Take your meds. Talk to yourself (usually better in private and maybe just on paper or in your own head) when the dragon starts sidling up to you.  Carrie Fisher (who talks about her own diagnosis) says, "The facts of my life don't change; the fiction does." That's when you have to remind yourself that feelings are only feelings and do a reality check.

I've learned to be aware of the signs that the dragon is creeping up and I'm putting on my riding boots.  When tears are right behind my eyes, when fears of a rejection that hasn't happened knots my stomach, some of the time I can step back and repeat the mantra of "feelings are only feelings. They aren't reality."

I told my therapist on my first visit that my goal was to sort out what was fucked up brain chemistry and what was real in my life. I'm still sorting.  It's like having diabetes, a good day yesterday doesn't mean you can be careless today. 

Mindfulness.  Self-awareness.  These are the gifts of managing this illness, this whatever it is, because these are the tools that help to gentle the dragon.

I'm learning to embrace the dragon rather than fight her.  Which is a fancy lame attempt at a poetic way of saying that while this illness doesn't define me,  it is a part of me, and that acceptance is the only way to stay grounded.

And it wasn't all bad; I can still remember the glitter of the stars and a full moon rising, poems pouring out like honey in summer, love so intense it was like lightning, rolled like thunder, and lit up the sky.

But I live now where light is not a illusion and the ground is under my feet.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

I THINK I Believe in Being Positive. Maybe

Oh, Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief" used to be one of my favorite prayers--along with "Send my roots rain," and "please, please, please let there be enough money in my account to cover that last check."  (I don't know if it's true there are no atheists in foxholes, but I'm pretty damn sure there aren't too many the day before payday when you really needed that check two days earlier.)
A good friend pointed out that in my previous blahblah blog (I Am Like SO Sure) there's more than a smidgen of negativity.  I think my point was the strength of my conviction--or yours, or anyone's for that matter--has nothing to do with being right, whether it's about a baseball game or the meaning of life.

Still hold with that and she didn't disagree.

However, her point is that believing does make a difference. And, on reflection, I think she's right.  Within the limits of rationality. (And I'm a lover of Lord of the Rings and a universe of infinite possibility and all the weird things light and subatomic particles do--but I don't think I'm going to play for the NBA no matter what I believe.) 

On the other hand--which is where I frequently go without ever having gone to the one hand--belief shapes behavior. That's an easy postulate. We don't have the time or resources to check everything in the world and sometimes we have to act on faith--faith that the waitress at Carrow's isn't out to poison us, that space aliens aren't sending messages through our fillings, all that. Paranoid schizophrenia is an incredibly debilitating illness.  And whatever the opposite might be--trusting everyone and everything?-- is, in my opinion, equally lethal. Believing that everyone has a soul and is a child of god should not lead to going home with the guy with chainsaw unless he's your tree surgeon. There are people who do not wish us well and situations that do not end happily.

Beyond that, I think MM is right in that if you think you can do something, you are far more likely to do it.  And if you believe you can't--well, that's pretty likely too.  If I believe I can go to college, I'm far more likely to look for possibilities for colleges, financial aid, majors I would like.

That's elementary duhness.

Attitude is important too.  If I expect good things to happen I'm going to act in ways that have a chance of attracting good things.  By and large people like to be around positive types unless they're good looking dark and brooding types with an ironic twist of bitter phrase that makes you laugh.

Of course, for a lot of us that might still fall into the category of expecting good things.

Be that as it may....

But where is the point that belief and denial converge and should divide, or--?  I read a story once about the actor Richard Dreyfuss who said that he almost literally never heard negative comments on his acting and his chances.  He was so focused and so sure that he would be a successful actor that no alternative ever entered his thoughts.

Wow.  Straight ahead tunnel vision maybe can move mountains, one more kick will churn the butter (an Irish saying about the frog in a jug of cream), refusing to listen to the people who tell you "why try?" can pay off.

However, and there's always one of those, at least when I'm writing, when I worked as a chaplain's assistant at a hospital I worked on the oncology floor--I worked with cancer patients.  This was at the height of the attitude determines prognosis movement. There were patients who wore smiles always, except--perhaps--in their sleep. Nothing was painful, nothing was difficult, and there was no possibility of anything but victory over the disease.

So, what was wrong with that? Well, for one I don't think denying that having cancer is an absolute bitch is realistic or healthy.

I could be wrong.

What I do recall is the self-flagellation I would see if a negative thought was permitted to cross patients' lips or minds. And if the cure didn't happen, if they were dying, the fault was theirs because they didn't try hard enough, weren't positive enough.  If the family shared this belief, the person died because she didn't want to live.

As Americans (in general) we love fighters. We're right there raging against the dying of the light. Passive acceptance is not our way/

But life happens and death happens (a nurse once reminded me that death is the one appointment no one is ever late for). It's happening now, as my fingers hit the keyboard and the microwave beeps and I remind myself I need to do my timesheet. A pretzel stick is soothing my soul and the slightly old and somewhat bitter coffee is hot. Now.

My bare feet are planted on holy ground.  Wherever I stand, holy ground. I'm not sure what this means and where believing in my dreams fits in to this.

Do I even know what those dreams are worth, what could be, what should be?  At one time I would have ripped my right arm off with my teeth to have our family be the living avatars of the Brady Bunch.Turns out that instead we are us.  Broken marriage but unbroken family--although a lot patched, glued and mended--events happened that couldn't be resolved in 30 minutes or 30 years, just endured and survived. Are their things I would change if I could?  Good Lord, yes! But I don't know if I would, if it meant losing what is. A situation that almost anyone would describe as disastrous resulted in a grandson who is the light of so many lives, who, his mother says, saved her life.

I'm not a person who believes that everything happens for good or is part of god's plan.  If there's a deity that planned Rwanda, I'm not lighting any candles. But I do believe in quilts and mosaics.  Take what is torn and broken and try to piece it together into something that, if not beautiful, might be useful.

It's holy ground.  There's no point in standing in shit and calling it roses--but I can, you can try to plant roses or at least  some onions in it and hope they grow,.

So, I guess I do believe. In believing.

Help thou my unbelief.

Monday, November 9, 2009

I Am Like SO Sure

It started with a yada yada conversation about week-end plans with JE.  In the world of baseball and post-season play, everything is scheduled around The Game(s).  He began with, "When do the Angels and Yankees play?"

I took another swig of my Corona.(in the tradition of Seniors Citizens--which is my new club--we were at a Happy Hour when drinks are cheaper and occasionally there are free snacks.)

Sometimes I worry about him.  "What game?" The Angels had lost a fourth game, American League playoffs were over and it was time to move on.  Hoping for the Yankees to get their pinstriped butts kicked, but nonetheless time to get to "acceptance" already.

"The fifth game."

"There is no fifth game--the Angels lost."  I could see their stiff upper lipped I'm too big a boy to cry faces headed toward the clubhouse.

Another thing I've learned in this new Senior Club is that anxious looks from people around you are not uncommon.  Lose your keys.  Misplace a coffee cup or the date, forget a kid's name when the kid is yours--forget your own name--and people look...worried.

We were giving each other The Look.  JE is older than I am and a little hard of hearing, while my hearing is adequate and it's the vision going.  (Now Bush the Elder just showed up in my head which is not an unusual event--not Bush but the whole pinball thought process --nd he's going on about the vision thing. Never mind, though.  Really.)   Being as JE sometimes misses things, occasionally I have to set him straight--gently and with great respect for his feelings.

"Bet you five bucks, " I said.

He raised.  We'll skip the details but it was the kind of stake where no matter who loses both people win.

A handshake and we went back to our beers.  Nibbling veggie spring rolls and barbecued ribs--which were NOT free but were (in theory) at a reduced price.  I kept looking sideways at him--frankly a little worried.  How could he be so confused?

Of course he was giving me the same looks and asked me several times: "You really are sure about this, aren't you.?"

"Wouldn't bet the rent money, but, yeah, I am."  Wondering how he would take the inevitable news that he was wrong.

Naturally, you know what happened--or otherwise I wouldn't be writing this, now would I?  He was right  I had commingled the defeat of my team--the Dodgers--at the bats and gloves of the Phillies with the hard fought Angels' win over the Yankees in game four.  I had ended up with two sad stories when the second one hadn't happened yet.  (It did.) Right about the saddened faces, wrong about the team.

We watched the game and the Angels lost.  But the whole incident "gave me furiously to think," as Hercule Poirot would say.  (I have to drop these things here because most of the time nobody I'm talking to would get the reference and I don't have to worry if you get it or not.  Or even if I've misquoted it.)

I had had absolutely no doubt that I was right.  Not a speck, not a scintilla, not a crumb.  None.

With the  kind of certainty I had had , I might have risked the gallows.  Or at least mockery on the Drudge Report.

And I was wrong.  Completely, no excuse, and no shading wrong.  The only thing I had right were the names of the teams and there's no prize for that.

My point?  The strength of your conviction has nothing to do with being right.  And this brilliant insight is applicable in all kinds of ways.  Really.

First of all, I find my certainty unnerving.  I SAW the Angels win.  True, just on television,  but I saw it and then managed to flush it completely out of my mind.  I was almost literally blind--there was something I couldn't "see,," no matter how clear and plain it was.

That kind of scary wrong certainty makes me wonder about other things I'm damn sure about.

One of the arguments I've heard from both pulpits to religious books of varying academic weight actually rests on the whole strength of conviction argument.  Why would the disciples been fired with evangelical zeal, if they didn't know that Jesus was the resurrected, living Messiah? Early Christians faced the lions (who just about always won), torture, stoning, crucifixion--only a crazy person would endure that if they weren't absolutely, heart and soul deep convinced.

I have no argument with this assumption until it's taken to the next step which is to claim that this passionate belief proves that the tenets of Christianity are fact, well, fact.

The one has nothing to do with the other, any more than a suicide bomber's willingness to die proves anything about the "facts" of his/her whatever religion or ideology the dying is for.

I was so very sure about what I KNEW I knew that not one bit of doubt crept in--not one. I was only "concerned" over JE's feelings when the poor darling found out he was wrong.

These days in self-help lit and in political arguments, religious arguments, and on and on and on, doubt is of the devil.  You shouldn't ever doubt yourself, your abilities, and the in reachness of your dreams.  Don't waver or wobble in your faith, your ideas, your solutions.  Don't even waver on what you say you said--even if those damn lying words are on video--because strength of conviction is all.

One of my favorite sayings--going back to the days when I wrote advice for parents of teens--is "choose the hill you're going to die on."  Not every issue is the apocalypse and if you treat it as such--well, by the time the real thing shows up all your ammo and your credibility will be gone.

The trouble is that I think the real issue is becoming not what hill will you die on--but the various hills you will kill for.  Lord knows we've all seen more than enough of that--the World Trade Center is an obvious one, along with the Pentagon, suicide bombers, Oklahoma City, and acceptable "collateral damage" nearly everywhere.  Woops, my bad's are everywhere.  Didn't know that was a school, hospital, wedding party.  Sorry for the babies blown to pieces in daycare in Oklahoma, but they probably shouldn't have been in a government building anyway.  I could--and usually do--go on and on.  Health care, stalled budgets, hating your neighbor and sending your dog to poop in the middle of his/her lawn....

However, my daughter, KM, pointed out to me that most people want to read something short in a blog.  If they wanted a book, they'd buy one.

She has a point.

But I want to bring this around to my barefoot on the ground and mindful moments--even if  that epiphany at Happy Hour and home is old, cliche, and hardly even new to me. I mean, like wow: I can be wrong.  Facts can be not only discounted and ignored, but erased. My mind--your mind, anyone's mind--can try to reinvent reality to suit our desires and never register a conscious thought.

Believing really, really hard doesn't make anything so. Wishing doesn't make it so. Saying "make it so" isn't a guarantee either, unless, perhaps, you are a deity. And, if you are, why are you reading this?

Mindfulness is being present, present in the world as it is, not as I want it to be.  (That's another blog entirely.)  If I am present in the moment, PAYING ATTENTION, I might be less likely to delude myself.

If I am trying to be aware, I might be able to perceive the desires that I am focusing on that are simply that: desires.  Acknowledge them and let them pass. I wanted the Dodgers to win.  I'm not actually that fond of the Angels even though I want to be.

I can check my facts.

And, in matters of faith and belief where facts as we know them do not exist, humility would seem to be in order

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Love Is All You Need?

Love is all you need, love is all you need…. Stuck in my head from a commercial for something I can’t recall and will not bother to look up. Cool kids though and, well, fun to watch. I think they all find themselves by the last frame too and that’s always a good thing.

Love is all you need. When I was 18, back in the early 60’s, I think I might well have said yes and then, maybe, added books. Peace and freedom and full stomachs would have grown naturally, organically, from that one strong root, the original blessing of love. Even at 18 I didn’t think love was as simple as a song, but it was music and as natural as a sigh. And if I could have, I would have put my arms around the world and everyone in it and held them close,

Life changes. We change our circumstances and our circumstances change us. Shit happens. Children and bills come and the years when love is action and quite often as much fun as dragging an eight year old or yourself to the dentist. I love you still rolls off the tongue but sometimes as one more item on the endless To Do list. A question, a wish, a promissory note, sometimes spit like a curse, or pounded like a club up side the head: thud, thud, thud.: I-Love-You.

Oh, the drama of it. Of course those years weren’t endless drudgery and the bills to pay. They were a jungle, thick and rich and surprising, one swing of the machete and you turn to heartbreaking beauty, you pratfall into the mud, a wasp stings you, the piranhas needle your feet to the bone and your friend pulls you out of the slough and you laugh and drink coffee in a clearing.

But if you had hummed Love is all you need I might have laughed, spewing my coffee; I might have turned my head away so you wouldn’t see and let the tears flow. But I wouldn’t have been able to say yes. I would have told you that love is complicated, easy to say, hard to live, a choice—something willed and worked at. Oh, I still wanted to put my arms around the world and hold everyone close, but I knew how little good it would do in a world of stick thin kids with swollen bellies, people armed with guns and money, a world where four kids (well fed and, thankfully, unarmed) couldn’t ride in a car for two hours without nearly killing each other and giving my peace loving tie-dyed mind serious thoughts of child/teenicide.

It’s a broken world and love comes in many flavors, as the Greeks told us with their four words for whatever it is, that crazy little thing called loved...

Of course at a certain point, it gets simpler again.

Love is what you lose.

My father died in ’83, my mother in ’96. Children leave even though (if you’re lucky and the stars are right) they don’t die. They discard soccer uniforms, prom dresses, baby shoes and boots—the Barbies stay behind with the Legos and leave them behind to gather dust along with all the things you were going to do and never did and all the things you did or said or thought and wish you hadn’t—they slip away from their childhood like a snake sheds its skin.

Friends become acquaintances, acquaintances become memories, husbands and wives leave, brothers turn gray….

That’s when you learn that loving is the bravest thing you ever do. That anyone ever does. Because the last word that love ever says is always good-bye.

Now I’m in my early sixties rather than living in the Western world’s 60’s. More drugs but less fun. (Unless of course you consider staying alive and nominally sane fun. Which I do.) And love is all you need is a Blackberry commercial. (OK, I bothered to look it up.)


I know I don’t need a Blackberry and at the moment don’t even want one. The commercial’s catchy though and if I weren’t a klutz and regular destroyer of cell phones I’d have an iPhone. (Instead I carry one that’s popular with construction workers and park rangers.)

So, don’t need a Blackberry, but what about love?

I have fallen in love so many times, the physical and emotional symptoms poets and scientists describe—and certainly not always with a potential sexual partner. A new baby floods body, heart and soul with oxytocin and the ability to go without sleep and not abandon the creature whose needs keep you from sleeping. I’ve been drawn by a glance from across the room, giggled and cried with friends, held a child with so much emotion that I laughed and cried.

So back to the 60’s in my sixties and peace and love and crunchy granola? Well, I can’t paint you a rainbow or tie dye a meadow, but here, in my sixties I think I can say, love is all I need. I’m not trying to say that a starving child in the Sudan just needs a big hug or that loving Ted Bundy would have saved his victims’ lives. This is a complicated, messy, and cruel world. Smart bombs kill stupidly. Unspeakable horrors never even make a small paragraph on the back pages of a newspaper.

A great, wide, wonderful world in which everything works for good and the all endings are happy? Well, as Papa Hemingway would say, “wouldn’t it be pretty to think so?”

But the world is. It exists and in itself that’s amazing. I am here, you are here. We try to understand what the hell or heaven is going on and what in the world or out of the world we are doing here? Or are supposed to be doing here?

And we love—write songs, change diapers, hug, kiss, make birthday cakes….

My mother was a shy woman, didn’t want to say boo to a goose. When my dad was dying, there wasn’t a doctor safe from her questions. She would hunt them down, notebook in hand, relentlessly asking questions and writing down every answer. Did he need something he didn’t get or get something he didn’t need? Someone would hear and hear and hear until the situation was resolved to her satisfaction.

This wasn’t being “in love.” (I love you but I’m not in love with you.) This was love as a fierce and active verb. No happy ending of course, just a miserable, painful death from cancer—regrets, sorrow, grief—grief and relief that the pain was gone and you didn’t have to watch him suffer and didn’t have to feel guilty or even a little bored when he was drugged and slept and you read magazines by his bed.

Love is an act of faith—at every wedding, every birth—maybe even at every divorce—there’s an act of faith that love is possible, that it can last—hang on through thick and thin, good and bad—make the long run or leave to try another track because love is possible.

Love is all you need. I think I finally learned about love when I learned to make tea the way my mother liked it. A tea bag steeped for exactly five minutes, two spoons of sugar to make it sweet, a squeeze of lemon or spoonful of bottle juice to make it sour. Five minutes made it too strong I thought and even slightly bitter.

So I would cheat and make the tea the way I thought she should like it. Until one morning something—might have been love—clubbed me over the head and said make the damn tea the way she likes it. Because that’s her tea and you let the words I love you roll so easy but you make her tea the way she doesn’t want it.

Love is all you need? From the vast distance of 63 years, I say yeah. Love is all you need.

Not love that hands you flowers or even sticky kisses.

The love you need is the ability, the grace, the gift of being able to love. Because when you do, when you love you make the tea the way she likes it.

Maybe you even figure out how to get some food to the child starving in the Sudan.

Monday, September 21, 2009

We Have to Talk

Should I give you my car keys now?

There are things no one expects besides the Spanish Inquisition. Being served with divorce papers right after your spouse kissed you good-bye to go to work. Unfriendly rottweilers running amok in your backyard, snarling and snapping at the windows,on what was supposed to be a quiet Sunday morning.
And you don't even own a dog. (Let's not go into what brought these particular illustrations to mind.)

Then there are the things you expect like taxes and laundry. Hardly ever disappointed there.

Oh and by the way you may have already picked up the theme that this is about UNPLEASANT things. No surprise parties, sticky kisses from doe-eyed toddlers, not a rainbow in sight and the unicorns have left the building.

But then there are the events and conversations that you know are coming someday--but you always hope someday is tomorrow and not today. Car repairs. The overflowing toilet five minutes before the guests arrive. Having to put your old and sick dog to sleep.

And then there's We have to talk, I've been meaning to talk to you about that conversations.
They're never you're getting promoted, I'm taking you to Paris, your kid just got a full ride scholarship to Very Impressive Ivy School, the tests came back negative.

No. The only question is which shoe, where, and how hard.

I'm 63 years old. Lord knows, I've had my share of all those events and the conversations. Whether your role on the conversation is as the verb or the object.your stomach is pretty well guaranteed to hurt.

So when my oldest son (the one who ALWAYS gets deputized to do the face-to-face on the subjects everyone is worrying about and no one wants to talk about) brought up a been meaning to talk to you subject while we were sitting in a hospital waiting room--I gave him props.

You gotta shoot the ducks when they're flying (although actually we never shoot anything) and the subject of driving came up.

"You know, I'm getting more uncomfortable with driving at night," I remarked. An apropos comment since the surgery we were waiting on had been pushed back and pushed back until it was now after 9:00. At night.

Carpe noctem and he did.

"I've been meaning to bring that up. Your driving. People are worried...." He hesitated, looking to me for my reaction.

Two things you need to know about me before this cliche conversation goes any farther. !). I have macular degeneration, primarily in my left eye. It was identified before I was fifty and--see "degenerative"--it has been doing so at a slow and steady pace over the years. 2). I try to be a decent person. I also quite frequently pitch my tent on the moral high ground.

I've always said that when my kids came to me about my driving, I would hand over my keys without question. Risk lives just because I wanted to maintain my "independence"? Never. No, I would hand over the keys and give the car to someone who needed it.

I lied like a rug

Not now. This conversation was supposed to happen when I was like eighty.

I had a LOT of questions.

And I didn't really ask if he wanted my car keys although I don't think I would have actually fought him for them. The questions tumbled out--after all, if "people" were mainly his dad, my ex-husband, I was prepared to discount them by 50%. The ex worries. He gets anxious. He thinks my vision is worse than it is.

The look was kind, sympathetic, but he was very direct. "Practically everybody."


"Mostly about the night driving? And that time with Elizabeth?" (Elizabeth is my niece. I drove her to the airport a few weeks ago. " "But that was meds--I didn't know they would make me sleepy. And I pulled off and let her drive."

"No." A head shake. "Night's a bigger worry, yeah. But even the day time...."


Before I could ask, he told me. ( I really think he was afraid I would start crying. Not good in the surgery waiting room.) "Drifting in the lane. Getting too close to other cars on the side. Missing turns. Things like that. It's a little...scary sometimes."

Double shit.

"How am I going to get to work?" I'm sure Iwas wailing. Maybe that's when I asked, "Do you mean--do you think I should quit now?" My mind was scrambling for Plan B and I realized I didn't have one.

"Probably not yet. But you knew this day was coming."

"I know. I know." But not yet. And I was going to be the first to notice. That's how I'd planned it.

I was
embarrassed. Ashamed. Humiliated. . People had been coming to Scott worrying over me? I'd scared people when I was driving?

In my head I apologized to every person I had judged for clinging to their keys and that trip to the grocery store. Children and the elderly get driven places. At least here in California, the land of No Real Public Transportation, adults drive. I. Am. An. Adult.

Being a grown-up sucks. Mortality sucks even more. A grown-up knows that however you may feel, you can't risk other people's lives if you're a danger on the road. Even risking your own life is thoughtless. And takes you back to that whole mortality thing.

I'm not sure if I'm afraid to die. Of course I want to live, to live long and prosper, if possible. Watch the grandchildren grow up, maybe even know a great-grandchild. See how (or if) the world keeps turning.

I also know I don't want to be the brain-damaged body lying in a bed, incontinent and without thought or volition. Knowing no one. Just...there. Sort of like that ugly silver vase Aunt Sally gave you and you feel obligated to keep dusting and polishing.

A car wreck is a helluva good way to get there.

We agreed that I would curtail my driving NOW--at night and in unfamiliar places. I'm looking at "Refresher Classes" for seniors.
Oh, god, I'm a senior. Not near as cool as being a senior in high school. I promised to be extra careful and very, very mindful when I drive.

Mindfulness again.

Originally there was a Plan B. I live with my vision. I knew the give up the car keys day was coming even if I didn't really believe it. My mantra was that I didn't want to be either a danger to everyone on the road OR a burden to my kids and friends. So, before that day arrived, I had planned to be living in a New Urban/Old Brooklyn type environment. A place I could walk to everything I needed, maybe even to public transportation. (Hey, it could happen--even in Southern California.)

Instead, I fell in love with a man whose house is near the top of a hill and within walking distance of nothing. I suppose, if I knew the neighbors and they were amenable, I could borrow the occasional egg or cup of milk. Maybe even coffee.

But I don't know the neighbors and they really can't be my convenience store anyway.

Hitchhiking is probably not the best option either.

I practice saying, "Could you take me to the grocery store? I need to pick up a few things. My prescriptions are ready--would you mind stopping by...?"

Mortality sucks. Big time.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Human Being: A Tough Gig

Blah, blah, blah, holy ground, blah, blah, mindfully barefoot in the now.

Do you ever wish you could take yourself off like an itchy sweater, hang your self up somewhere, and come back when you're ready to wear yourself again?

I'm trying to think of analogies, metaphors, images that describe the sheer weariness of dealing with my own repetitive crap. Whack-a-mole? Dusting in a sandstorm? Carrying water home in a sieve?

Or just not realizing the laptop was unplugged and the battery ready to die--thereby losing most of what I'd written here. Talk about living in the now--.

I've misplaced my debit card AGAIN. For a while now, I've been mostly careful. Mindfully putting the card back into my wallet and my wallet into my purse. (This is a major improvement over the whole drop it in my purse, pocket, car seat--or the bag of whatever stuff I've just bought--routine that I've kept for years. ) However, now not only will I be inconvenienced but I will have the opportunity to impose on others. Hey, if I give you a check, could you deposit in your account and then give me the cash back? Or, god forbid, I will have to actually walk into the bank and talk to a human person. Makes me wonder--am I distracted, human, or do I like to impose on other people and mess with myself at the same time?

You can't pretty up your shit either--it's like lighting a stick of incense in a locker room piled to the ceiling with week-old unwashed gym socks.It won't make any difference, no one will notice, and the place will still stink.

Worse are the stupid, self-centered, hurtful things I say and do while I keep trying to be this serenely loving person who embraces all of humankind, and dances barefoot on the holy blessed ground.With all those other holy blessed creatures.


Like all god's children I have feelings. Nice ones, exaggerated ones, hurt, lonely, peaceful, angry, anxious, fearful, jealous. All kinds.

Like everyone else.

Oh, look a bear inspires action--scared inspires doing something. Something seems to be wrong with a loved one--anxiety can inspire action.

Being pedantic, aren't I? Intellectualizing feelings, distanced and detached. But it IS true that feelings are...well, feelings. Emotions. The only reality they sometimes indicate in the weather in my head, the pinging in my brain.

Which avoids the whole reason for wishing I could shed myself and wondering, as I write, why I'm writing about it. Therapy, confession, or self-flagellation, the fingers keep hitting the keyboard.

The other day I pitched a fit. Not just a snit, a pout, but a true angry fit.

The kind nobody wants to talk about afterward--not the objects, the collateral damage, or the perpetrator.

One of those actions for which the phrase "and we will never speak of it again" was created.

The details of what triggered this outburst really aren't relevant. Some one did something that hurt me. I like that phrasing. It's very close to "see what you made me do." which can be used to excuse just about anything from spilled milk to genocide.

The point is I felt some crazy, conflicted, jealous emotions. Very, very real--that sick hollow feeling in my stomach. Tears that feel like a river at flood stage, ready to spill over the levee--that hit by a truck, panicked gut response.

Which is fine in that whole not fine way. An honest, instructive response.

Worth a discussion later. Much later.

But, oh, I discussed it then. First in that tightly pitched, everyone has done something rotten tone but with the superior edge that says I will rise above it. Next step, in my repertoire, is the cool, controlled, rational explanation of my point of view and the reasons I am most justifiably hurt and upset.

The feelings I have and the physiological response ARE unpleasant. I have every right to those feelings.

The horrible thing is knowing that abusing the other person--and verbal abuse IS abuse--is effective in reducing my tensions. The cycle of I'm hurt, I am a victim here, a victim I tell you, excuses the relentless pounding of how could you do this, you are so selfish, so thoughtless, so mean to me--see how I'm hurting.

Worse than that is the finale. I feel better. The tension in my body has lessened. The powerless child has regained some power, and the screaming tantrum throwing two year old has "shown them."

Now is the time for apologies. The fact that these apologies are sincere, the regrets deep--the equivalent of the abusive spouse's flowers--doesn't change the fact that hurting someone else has been used as therapy to ease my own pain.

The itchy sweater doesn't come off, not even sleep is enough to rid one--me--of my self. It's more like housework than anything. If you cook, if you eat, pots, pans, dishes get dirty and one way or another have to be washed. If you walk, the floors get dirty. Toilets have to be scrubbed because our bodies do what bodies do into the toilet--every day you get up to chores that never stay done because there is no done, not really.

And the bigger mess you made the day before, the more work today. I could stretch the analogy like silly putty of course--sheesh, you can throw the dishes, walk on the shards of the glass that can't be unbroken, choose to make pies of the shit and pretend it's blue ribbon....

Doesn't matter.

Human. You feel--I feel. Sometimes I--you too if you want to join the party--feel like crap, are treated like crap--and like any good primate, starting flinging the crap, and rarely only at the one who threw it.


It's a tough gig.

Do you ever wish you could take your self off...?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Mindful--Oh, look...a bird!--ness

Mindfulness: not just for Buddhists anymore. Or Jedi, for that matter. It's therapeutic, healthy, calming, spiritual and prescribed for everyone, from nursery schools to nursing homes.

I have a hard time with it. With being present in the moment. My mind skitters, thoughts ping around like a well flipped pinball, the monkey mind break dances, and I can't find my keys.

So what?

Except for the keys, does it really matter?

Well, first of all, I really WOULD like to know where my damn keys are.

Second, though not really second, except for coming after the first, but actually first in importance, is that I don't want to leave--die--without having actually been here.

Maybe I should have listed it first without trying to be funny about the keys? (I do worry about you getting bored, deciding to check your email one more time, or clicking up Solitaire.)

The Dodgers are playing and J.E. and I are watching. James Loney is up. Bottom of the 9th, 2 out 3-2 in favor of the Cardinals. If you follow baseball you already know what happened. Before I type very many more letters I will too. Loney steps back, it all rests on him. The fans are clapping to a beat, now the cheers are rising.

Loney swings, connects--fly ball, caught.

Game over.

J. E. and I say it together--shit!! Or did we? Maybe we each just thought it or I thought it or said it and imagine that he said it,too. But if I write we said "shit!" at the exact same time, that will be what happened, the remember when story. Because the moment itself is gone and the only recording is in my neurons or whatever it is that stores memories in the brain and what my fingers type.

The now is this breath, not the next breath or the last breath. I guess there is really no then and really no will be. Just the now. I know you can't step into the same river twice. Some days I'm not sure about once. And sometimes I think it's all one, the rivers, my foot, the stones under my foot, all that flows and all the appears to be still. Transitory and transcendent, separate and woven tightly together. (And, yes, I do know--thank you very much--that this is the 14 year level of man, that's deep.)

Which means that particular moment passed and I was in an imagined river not here at all . The monkey tosses words in the air, watches them fall, and, and, oh, man, that's deep.

Sometimes in the moment I think about lunch and wonder whether anyone has made coffee.

What is actually around me?

There's a computer screen in front of me and pixels form at the command of my fingers on a keyboard and the pixels shape letter that my mind, and yours, process into words.

On my left there's a coffee travel mug, stainless steel on the bottom, with reflections of the lights overhead. Vertical lines that seem to float inside the metal, not on it. The lid is maybe two and a half inches of black plastic. When I remember to push the button thing on top I can turn it upside down without a drop of coffee spilling. I don't always remember to do that but the amount of coffee spilled is still much less than dumping over an entire cup.

A brown prescription bottle with a label around it and a "push down & turn" message on top. It's a medication that I won't take--offered by my cardiologist when he thought my heart condition was an anxiety attack. Well, I was pretty damned anxious when the various docs first thought I might be having a heart attack and then thought I was an overly anxious middle-aged woman. Don't know how they thought middle aged female anxiety could fake an EKG, but what do I know? (Lots actually but it's the sort of phrase used in those kinds of sentences.) The pills sit there because the color of the pills inside the bottle is different than what the label says it should be. A big hmmm. So of course I've been Googling with no resolution and then figured out I could call my daughter-in-law the pharmacist and she would know.

Now my mind just tripped back to Maui where she and my son live. I haven't met the new pup that keeps Kai company there....

Just took off the bracelet that's been protecting my tendinitis plagued left wrist. Didn't even think about it--the right hand just reached over, pulled it, off the alternating brown and white pieces on stretchy string which makes the bracelet a kind of brace--my ex brought it to me from Africa. The bracelet, of course, not the wrist.

Yes, he went on safari with his girlfriend. I was wildly envious because I always imagined going on safari, though not so much as a tourist, on a bought and paid for excursion. Maybe as a journalist, a writer, I dunno--as Isek Dineson?

Time to get the coffee I just heated out of the microwave. And I didn't even mentioned I had left my desk.

Funny. I think the medication I take for the bipolar thing slows my brain down enough to think more carefully. Take more care. Instead of just dumping the coffee into the travel mug (for it's long journey from the kitchen to my desk in the lobby) then wiping up the dribbles on the counter--if I noticed them--I poured it over the sink where dribbles don't matter.

There's actually nothing here that I just see. Photos, of course, are heavy with meaning. To my right is a picture of my parents--had to be taken before 1983 cause my dad went into the hospital on January 19th and never left until he died on April 2nd. And then it was only his body they transported out of there. My brother took the nose clip oxygen thing --still hissing air--from under his nose, carefully removing the thin plastic tubing from around dad's ears. The nose plugs and tubes had irritated his skin (and him). When the morphine was heavy in him, he'd try to brush it away like an annoying bug, then tear at, even, at times, succeeding.

"At least we can get rid of this damn thing now."

I look at his picture and see where my slightly crooked features come from, I see my brothers' faces. My mother looks--slightly anxious? annoyed?--maybe just uncomfortable because she always disliked her picture being taken She died in 1996--March 24th. My dad's sister says "Springtime's not a good time for us."

It's true, most of the family deaths happen in spring. I wonder if I'll die in the spring.

Of course what I'm actually seeing is a flat paper covered with an emulsion that through some sort of magic of light and chemistry is turned into paper with colors that my brain, through information provided by the rods and cones of my eyes, perceives as my parents.

You, of course, would perceive something different, but it's unlikely you could look at the 4 x6 paper and see only colors. Nana and Granpopper? Mom and Dad. An older man and woman? You might just see that. Two people, man and woman, standing next to one another, giving little other information. You might not even be sure of the relationship. Just two people next to each other looking straight ahead at the photographer.

Who might have been me.

My picture dad's probably around the same age I am now--he died when he was 64--so my mother is five or six years younger in the picture than I am now.

Next to the picture on my desk, a roll of Scotch tape, a square of ceramic tile to put coffee cups on, and. a foot away from that--a coffee cup.

I can see my keys from here.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Madeleines & GI Joe

Proust had his madeleines, me, child of pop culture that I am, got GI Joe. Went to see it yesterday evening (JE surprised me with popcorn and a movie and it was Monday, which is senior night.)

Did I like it? It was fine, the movie that hopes to be a franchise. Kind of like those Saturday matinee serials that I actually only saw once. (I haven't read Proust either. Actually I'm rather pretentious.)

Lots of explosions. Bad people on the side of evil. Good soldiers on the side of, well, good. The GI Joes (name of this top secret force) is multinational and integrated by gender and race as well.

Esprit d'corps up a gum stump. WE leave no one behind even if we have to bend the rules until they break. Amazing number of explosions, all of which the good guys can outrun. Collateral damage everywhere but no children or pets were every harmed.

But I'm not going to do in depth analysis or view it through any sort of lens, feminist, philosophical, or political. (I told you I'm pretentious.)

Instead I'm going to walk barefoot through the past. A big duh about the barefoot because that's the name of this thing and besides the only way to bring back the past is barefoot rather than with velvet shoes and rose colored glasses.

GI Joes. I think my dad and/or my brothers started the boys on them. Or maybe it was their own dad or their constant, insistent pleading. I had been adamant that MY children never going to play with guns or war toys of any kind. Somehow the big GI Joe action figure with the scar, fuzzy stuff for hair, and lots of uniforms and accessories (just like Ken, but MANLY) showed anyway. This GI was maybe six inches tall, his body was stiffly articulated so he could turn his head to look for enemies, bend his arms to fire his weapons, kneel, look like he was striding--or dancing when I got hold of him, creating an awkward arabesque. Not the wimpy mini ones that were the next gen, these stood tall and ready for action, like a good action figure should. (My brother just informed me that GI Joe was probably more like 12 inches tall and they now make them as expensive collectors' items. I wonder if there's a market for original actual child abused Joes?)

My finger tips remember the feel of that flocked head covering that was supposed to be a military brush cut. I knew how fake it was. I had run my hands over my dad's quarter inch stubble all my life.

Of course, like Barbie and Ken, Joe had been neutered. I can't recall if he even had butt cleavage, though I'm pretty sure Hasbro was stamped on his backside.

Nice Gwen, you're probably thinking, but what's the point and where is the barefoot path?

Watching the movie, I was back in the then. Boys in the backyard. which handily always seemed to have bare dirt somewhere. (A fondness for gardening does not necessarily equate with plants actually surviving.)

I think they had a tank that fired real little projectiles and other weaponry that actually did stuff. But what I remember and what I can see almost as clearly as this screen was a big yellow vehicle that could play both offense and defense. It was blocky, rectangular--can't recall if it had wheels or treads, but it was always sitting in the backyard. Once it arrived it became an outdoor toy and never got cleaned up to be brought in the house. Dusty, muddy, eventually battered, inevitably pieces broke off, went missing.

None of that seemed to affect its usefulness. (So at least they grasped the destructive capability of war and acceptable losses.)

G.I. Joes--of course the boys had many--sometimes surrounded it, sometimes the Joes were off on missions elsewhere and it sat, abandoned.

Hovering over that image is my dad's delighted aren't I a bad boy grin. He loved it, the boys loved it when Granpopper defied his peacenik daughter and bought the war toys that his grandsons delighted in far more than books I bought them. I minded less than I showed, but it was a dance where we all knew our parts, a game enjoyed by everyone in it. Marine Corps brat that I am, I cut my teeth on a pearl handled 45. I know that war toys don't inevitably make for warriors.

Then there's that familiar stomach twist of grief. Although my dad died in 1983, loss doesn't have an expiration date and you always miss someone and who you were to them, with them. And the other part is regret and those things you wished you done and wish you hadn't done.

I think the sins of omission stab more than than the ones of commission, though both why didn't I and why did I are almost as good as a hungry baby for waking you up at 3:00 AM.

That's part of the barefoot walk. I want to remember cozy Christmas mornings, everyone smiling, delighted with each gift, the surprises that Santa brought exactly what each child dreamed of, the stockings fill with the most loved sweets and the most fun and funniest small thingies, the family gifts all evoking actual and sincere just what I wanted's.

On the screen, Duke, the GI Joe to be, is watching the woman he loved, as she strides in to the secret base, wearing the black leathers that have been requisite since Diana Riggs. He flashes back to the night he proposed to her, she was a blonde, and they danced. The music is lovely and so are they. The past, in movies, is always a little blurred. Good idea--most everything, including memories, look better when softened.

The actual Christmases? There were starry eyed children, and the just what I wanted's. But the plates didn't match and none of them had Christmas trees on them. The fire spit sparks and I wasn't wearing that long plaid velvet skirt I didn't own.

The tensions--the house is messy and dirty, George is embarrassed, wishes I hadn't invited so many people to celebrate. The dog shits on the floor and someone steps in it. Dinner is complicated when my mother-in-law Ethel is there. She is The Cook and the kitchen is her domain. My mother and I bow out and chop, stir, and mix at her direction. And wash up. But this means my family doesn't get some of the old familiar dishes like cornbread dressing.

Which was my dad's domain on the Christmases he was at home. I can see him now, at the countertop of my kitchen the way it was before we remodeled, next to the refrigerator, the big brown mixing bowl (I wonder what ever happened to that bowl) at hand. "Here, taste it, doll. What do you think it needs? " He didn't have to offer a taste, of course. All of us, walking by, would steal a pinch. It didn't matter what you answered either because he really wouldn't listen.The cornbread itself was my mother's responsibility; she made it the day before so it could dry out a bit. And biscuits. but there always biscuits so no special effort was required for those. I make the cornbread now but of course it doesn't taste like my mother's just as hers never tasted like Mamaw's. Somewhere in a far distant past all food was ambrosia and mana and tasted exactly as it should taste and the memory haunts the human race.

Regret. Remorse. Our Town playing on my mind's stage.

Why didn't I spend every moment just watching the boys play? Appreciating the awkward love and good intentions done so badly that we all tried to give. however it was said or shown?

Hair shirts and deliberately chosen paths of rocks and broken, blistering asphalt aren't any more true than velvet slippers, of course. It simply was and the real pain is that it passes. Nothing stays.

Eventually the boys abandoned their GI Joes, though I suspect some are still around, stuffed in the boxes I keep in the garage. Battered, missing hands, feet, limbs--casualties of the wars.

The yellow thing is gone.

I don't remember when. Or how.

GI Joe ends with that iconic Star Wars march of the heroes side-by-side to a swelling triumphant theme and a quick, ominous glimpse of the villain in place for the sequel.

The lights come up; the movie's over. J.E. and I hold hands as we walk down the steps more carefully than we might have years past.

I don't remember when steps became something take with a certain amount of care.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Just picked my font--the first major decision on the whole blog. Well, other than picking the format that took me several minutes of deep concentration. Times, a serif font, is supposed to be easy on the eyes and I love the word serif. This format looked plain and I figure fancy I can add later.

"Barefoot on the ground"? Silly name--where else would you call it barefoot? Bed, bath, shower, pool--that's not barefoot, that's normal. In the trees might be a judgment call on whether barefoot has any significance. When I was a kid bare feet were what you mostly wore in the summer.

Not any more. "Where are your shoes?" is the question I get asked if anyone notices my bare feet outside the door sill--and sometimes even in the house. "Put your shoes on, Sally," is what J. E. says and he should know better, having grown up in he South and gone barefoot as a boy, but he doesn't.

When Moses met the burning bush on the mountainside, the bush that burned without being consumed, the bush from which he heard the voice of God, the voice that named itself I AM THAT I AM, he was commanded to take off his. "For where you stand is holy ground."

Why barefoot? Maybe because nothing comes between you and where you stand, no protection from rocks and thorns, the grit of sand, cool, sweet soil, thick mud that oozes up between your toes, shit you may not have seen--what is, is. Seems like what I AM THAT I AM would go with that.

So, touching the ground is the way to experience the holy?

Wow, that's deep. And probably only the millionth preacher type to say some thing like that. The verses come around in the lectionary and you have to find something to say. There's ten to twenty minutes to fill on Sunday morning and mostly the congregation expects you to fill it even if chances are they doze a little or they work on the week's To Do list--or just drift to that bird outside th window.

Somewhere I read and I wish I could be accurate enough to Google the quote, that Jesus came to teach us that everywhere we stand is holy ground.

Now I'm not sure about the God or Jesus thing--though I like the poetry of I AM THAT I AM--and it sounds more like the Buddha to me, but I do believe that everywhere we stand is holy ground.

So that's what the hell this is, or will be--my attempt to be barefoot on the ground. Meandering, distracted, wondering, and wandering, tripping over rocks and bones, stepping in the shit and oh so endlessly writing about it. Join in if you like--it might be nice to walk along together or bump into each other.

Or not.

The really good thing about this is it's not required reading, I don't expect a paper on it--and I'd really prefer that you don't grade me.